High schooler turns pro -- wake up worrywarts

June 26, 1995|By MIKE ROYKO

As if we don't have enough to worry about, now there is the question of Kevin Garnett's future.

If you are the kind of lump who doesn't keep up with hot new controversies and haven't given any thought to Kevin's future, don't fret. There is still time. By next week, grave concerns for Kevin's future will be jumping out of your TV, news magazines and the papers.

Actually, the grave concerns have already started. Some sportswriters can't resist being the first on their block to have wrinkled brows.

Yes, this involves sports. Which means we are talking about money, ethical dilemmas and social issues. Modern sports are much more than playing bouncy-ball.

This Kevin Garnett is a basketball player. He just finished high school, and the experts say he is the greatest high school player in the history of the planet, the galaxy and possibly the universe.

He is said to be so good that he will skip college and go straight into the professional NBA. Only three other high school players have done this. And one of them was already 20 years old when he got a diploma.

Kevin is only 18, although he stretches nearly 7 feet high. So there are grave concerns about someone that young entering the professional arena.

There are concerns that he is too young to be exposed to the frisky lifestyle of many older professional athletes and that he will be deprived of the enrichments of college life.

There also are concerns that at so tender an age he will spend half of each year traveling from city to city, stadium to stadium, and will be isolated from real-world experiences.

And there are concerns that the lanky waif will be manipulated and exploited by owners, coaches, agents and those who sell gym shoes. (Charles Dickens did not anticipate gym shoe makers as oppressors of the young.)

As you can see, for those who write about sports, if it's not one worrisome thing, it's another.

But it is my nature to try to look for a silver lining in every dark cloud. So let us examine these questions.

First, is 18 too young for even an exceptionally talented young fellow to embark on a money-making career?

Actually, many young men do essentially the same thing. At age 18 or thereabouts, they launch careers as plumbers, carpenters, tuck pointers, furniture movers, waiters, garbage collectors, window washers, construction workers, farmhands and countless other pursuits.

Every day, lads of 18 or 19 are taught by skilled drill sergeants in various ways how they might kill an enemy should the national need arise. That's pretty serious work, no matter how old you are.

And around Farragut High, the Chicago school attended by Kevin, some precocious teens have already launched careers as drug dealers and shooters, which is a cloud lacking even a speck of silver.

So it really isn't all that unusual for a person of 18 to start working for a living. And if Kevin were only 5-8, pudgy and going to work on a newspaper delivery truck, I doubt if many sports journalists would fret about his future.

Then there is the question of Kevin skipping college entirely.

It would be nice if Kevin and every 18-year-old could go to college.

But it appears that after 12 years of schooling, Kevin doesn't have a scholarly nature. His grades and tests wouldn't get him into anything but a junior college.

So imagine that you are the parents and your son comes to you and says:

"Folks, I just got the word. Despite my academic shortcomings, I can enroll at Dullsville Junior College."

"Well, son, that ain't Harvard or Yale, but it's a start."

"Right. Or I've been offered a job that I can take right away and skip college."

"That's a serious step, son."

"Right. But the job will pay at least $1 million a year and maybe $2 million. And if I work hard, my pay will go up."

"On second thought, son, we can hire some private tutors."

I've never understood why someone has to attend college if they plan on making a career out of bouncing a ball and dropping it through a hoop. Especially with the colleges selfishly keeping all the money from TV and ticket sales for themselves.

If college were essential to develop basketball skills, then the starting center for the Bulls would be a 5-6 math whiz named Ling Wang.

So Kevin and his mom, both of whom lived until recently in a poor Southern town where the view of real life is far clearer than in a stadium press box, should take the money and run to the bank.

I'm trying to imagine what the reaction might have been if someone had offered a million or two to the 18-year-old guys I grew up with.

The only questions would have been: "Who do I got to kill and should it be slow or fast?"

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